The Impossibility of Doing It All

Lately, I’ve awoken with a series of panic attacks. None of that compression in my chest, or inability to fill my lungs with air, has anything to do with writing. No, it’s the mounting self-inflicted pressure of having to complete a blog post, catch up on e-mail, check out my Twitter accounts, and, of course, there’s Facebook. I’m fairly certain, when I decided to become a writer an allow my creative juices to churn out bestsellers, this wasn’t what I had in mind. But, then again, I haven’t quite reached that bestseller status yet, so perhaps this is my comeuppance.

Often, I’m amazed at what other authors accomplish. Churning out books in 8 weeks’ time, writing a blog (sometimes 2 or 3) every week, belonging to 50 groups on Facebook and posting regularly (in some cases every hour) about their books, their drop in sale price, their blog appearances, their upcoming book-signings.  You name it, like flies on sherbet, their postings are everywhere:  Amazon, Smashwords, Goodreads, LinkedIn, ReadersInTheKnow, Kindle this, Kindle that, Tweet, Tweet, Tweeting, the list goes on-and-on. Is it possible that they have a team of elves, secret slaves tied-up in the basement, maybe a high school cheerleading squad, or a full-time personal assistant with staff at their beck-and-call? Where do they find the time to do all of this, and still write their next book?

What I find the most annoying is all the advice writers shell out about writing. I’m not ungrateful, everyone wants to know the secret to success and is anxious for those precious tips, but, what is the most important tip they give you, or should give you? It’s to write, stupid! Yes, W-R-I-T-E!  All of the rest of it doesn’t mean a darn thing if at the end of the day you haven’t written 300 or 1,000 words in your manuscript. For me that requires plotting time to boot. I have to visualize that next chapter. Hell, I have to smell it, taste it, touch it, wrap my arms around it, do everything with it, but have sex with it, and, actually, I do that too, since my novels are very sexy. And, because I’m a bit of an obsessive/compulsive (I didn’t know this until I started writing), I have to reread everything I write countless times and self-edit as I go. I can’t just let go and write 50 pages. 10 yes, 20 once in a great while, but most likely I’ve gone over those 10 or 20 pages’ innumerable times perfecting them, cutting this, changing that, only to throw the whole damn thing out and start again.

What is strange, and I didn’t know this until I researched this post, is that my process of writing is uncannily similar to Ernest Hemingway’s. Don’t get me wrong, I am not comparing myself to the 20th century’s most influential writer. Our similarity in our process of writing has probably more to do with a psychological flaw than anything else. I certainly don’t plan on killing myself anytime too soon. But, unbeknownst to me, until I wrote this post and went searching for Papa’s advice, his process of writing, reading and editing as you create your novel, are exactly the habits I employ, and why I now consider myself to be compulsive.

So without further ado, I give you a snippet of his advice to writers: “The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time… Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along. Every day go back to the beginning and rewrite the whole thing and when it gets too long, read at least two or three chapters before you start to write and at least once a week go back to the start. That way you make it one piece. And when you go over it, cut out everything you can. The main thing is to know what to leave out. The way you tell whether you’re going good is by what you can throw away. If you can throw away stuff that would make a high point of interest in somebody else’s story, you know you’re going good.”

And my favorite part of Papa’s advice is the following: “Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself. That’s the true test of writing. When you can do that, the reader gets the kick and you don’t get any. You just get hard work and the better you write the harder it is because every story has to be better than the last one. It’s the hardest work there is. I like to do and can do many things better than I can write, but when I don’t write I feel like shit. I’ve got the talent and I feel that I’m wasting it.”

Wait, I’m starting to itch just thinking about those emails filling up my in-box as I write this post. Now I know why Hemmingway drank. Oh, I forgot, he didn’t do any of this virtual stuff, he just wrote. Perhaps, the best advice as we attack this difficult job of writing, is to just take a deep breath, because, let’s face it, it’s impossible to do it all. There are not enough hours in a day, or in a night for that matter.

Speaking of night, as of late, when the Facebooker’s and the Tweeterer’s curl up in their nests, and the virtual highway becomes a road less travelled, I find myself contentedly propped up by pillows, in bed with my laptop balanced on my lap, coffee in my hand, and all sound and distraction suppressed, contained, and relegated behind a closed door. In this cave of silence, I write and rewrite, listening to my inner voice, or voices, and channeling the advice of one of my favorite author’s Ernest Hemingway.

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